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Monday, 26 February 2007

Some interesting consequences of instant unemployment

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"Instant Unemployment" isn't a very suitable way of describing the impetus behind the Interesting Consequences I'm about to discuss. But this being a blog, not a journal article, the term will suffice. As we shall see shortly, "Unemployment by Edict" would be a more descriptive term.

I begin with the army of stonemasons assembled by Herod the Great, King of Judea, Galilee, Idumea, and Perea, to renovate the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This task stretched on for more than a mortal lifetime, thus involving several generations of sponsors, overseers, and workers. In short, an entire industry emerged focused on beautifying the Temple. Inevitably, this work finally came to an end, and abruptly so, when the Temple was totally destroyed in 70 CE. Instant unemployment ensued for every stonemason formerly on the government payroll. What was the result?

Interestingly enough, the destruction of the Second Temple was the direct impetus, through the instant unemployment it engendered, for the explosive growth of a whole new industry, and the cultural artifact it produced: The Ossuary. These hand-carved boxes of stone, into which the bones of deceased Judeans were placed for permanent burial, had begun to be used by the rich and famous as work on the temple began to wind down during the earthly lifetime of Jesus, but they became an integral part of the local culture as long as the previously government-employed stonemasons were forced to practice their craft in the private sector.

Another act of the Roman imperium resulted, perhaps not so directly, in yet another cultural artifact. In 392 CE, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II put an empire-wide ban on the production of all artifacts of pagan culture, including the Egyptian mummy portraits associated with the worship of Isis and Serapis. An entire industry, thus instantly unemployed, turned their creative attention to theologically approved art forms, resulting eventually in the icons which to this day form an integral part of the rites of Eastern Orthodoxy throughout its various patriarchates.

Closer to home, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution resulted both in Prohibition, and in the enabling legislation--which produced an army of Treasury Agents whose sole duties involved the arrest of those producing and selling alcoholic beverages. With the repeal of Prohibition in the Twenty-First Amendment, instant unemployment was about to ensue. This, however, being the Roosevelt administration, something surely would be done to keep them on the federal payroll. The result? The first piece of federal Gun Control legislation, the impetus behind the addition of "Firearms" to the name of the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco. Treasury agents would henceforth arrest those who produced and sold guns, and the handgun as an artifact of mainstream American culture was now on its way to eventual oblivion.

Three examples of instant unemployment by government edict: the first two pushed artisans from the public into the private sector, resulting in the emergence of a new cultural artifact; the third was tampered with in such a way as to retain on the government payroll men who had made no contribution to the physical culture of their nation; a retention which continues to lead towards the extinction of part of that physical culture.

An unintended consequence?

This post was thoroughly edited in March 2015.

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